Temporary Courtroom Closures in California

In People v. Esquibel (2008) 166 Cal.App.4th 539, the trial court excluded two of the defendant's friends during the testimony of a child witness in a gang-related shooting case. (Id. at p. 546.) The child lived in the same neighborhood as the defendant's friends, and the record reflected the court's concerns about retaliation against the child by gang members. (Ibid.) In People v. Bui (2010) 183 Cal.App.4th 675, the trial court excluded three individuals, including members of the defendant's family, from part of voir dire. (Id. at p. 679.) The appellate record reflected the court's concern "that the spectators, who would be in immediate proximity with the prospective jurors in the body of the courtroom, had not yet been admonished by defendant's counsel to refrain from comments that might prejudice the panel." (Id. at pp. 687-688.) They were permitted to return after they were admonished. (Ibid.) In People v. Pena (2012) 207 Cal.App.4th 944, the trial court excluded 10 to 12 members of defendant's family from the courtroom during the last 30 minutes of testimony, closing argument, and jury instruction in response to juror complaints by two jurors that defendant's family members were following them and making them feel uncomfortable. (Id. at p. 950.) The appellate court concluded the trial court acted reasonably in concluding that the complaining jurors were credible, and promptly removing anyone who might have participated in the intimidation without first holding a hearing to examine the jurors and family members. (Id. at p. 951.)